Darren LaCroix is a Toastmasters member who won the World championship of public speaking in 2001. Last Friday, I attended a workshop on public speaking that he gave in Lisbon, just before our District 59 Spring conference.
The guy is impressive. The 3-hour workshop was fantastic. The deal was truly value for money.
He explained his story more or less in his winning speech from 2001, repeated at an event of the NSA in the following video:
10 years later, he is even better… but he wasn’t always like that. During the weekend he played another video of himself in the late 80´s. He was then a disaster of a public speaker. He then went on a journey of studying the best speakers and working hard to improve until being what he is today. This sounds very much as the American dream story… but having seen the video back then and seeing the dozens of shelves filled of videos and cassettes of speeches that he went through in those 10 years, there is little doubt of the truthfulness of that story. As he said “I use the tool of Toastmasters better than most”.
Some takeaways of the workshop
I will leave below some of the notes I took during the workshop, to share them with you and to have them properly stored for myself (still, if you get the chance of attending one of his workshops, do yourself the favour and book a place in it). Many of them are quotes either from him or from his coaches, sometimes I didn’t get right the source.
The most important part of a presentation: “The thought process in the audience’s mind”.
He introduced the concept of “salting” a presentation: getting your audience to want to hear your message before you deliver it (building up curiosity, tension).
The 4 most important habits to create:
- Never turn down stage time (he even subscribed to 4 different club to “quadruple his failure rate”).
- Record yourself every time (“yeah, it’s hard to listen to yourself… but guess who we have to listen to!”).
- Be confident enough to be humble.
- You must crave feedback.
“Habits are like train tracks: take a long time to put in place but once there they’ll take you anywhere”, Patricia Fripp.
On nervousness before an audience: “Did anyone come here to watch me fail?”
“Skill set without mindset will get your audience upset”.
Sometimes emphasizing is de-emphasizing (from the lyrics of some U2 song).
“Clarity and simplicity”, for the audience. Use the stage with a purpose.
“Don’t add humour, uncover humour”. Not especially in favour of adding others’ jokes, if you do that you have to say so.
If you are inauthentic and the audience senses that, they won’t follow you.
“Connect before you can educate, entertain and persuade” (he had greeted 90% of the audience individually before starting the workshop). As a curiosity he mentioned the movie “Avatar”, in which the creatures are connected through hair and ponytails, e.g. “the horse chooses the rider”, in the same way the goal of the speaker is to get the audience to like him.
For professional speakers the pay has to be a side effect.
We are not taught how to incorporate feedback.
“Toastmasters slogan should be: `The best place to make mistakes´”.
“The difference between good and great speakers is 100 speeches”, Dale Carnegie. An average Toastmaster member gives 3-4 speeches per year (it’d take 25 years to give 100). Take every opportunity you have to give speeches. He delivered his winning speech 22 times in the 3.5 months previous to the competition. “What is your stage time rate?”; join more clubs.
“Speaking as a dialogue, not a monologue”. Use pauses to give people time to reflect, especially when speaking to people of different cultures and when you ask rhetorical questions. Since pauses are uncomfortable for the speaker, give yourself something to do mentally, e.g. counting “1001, 1002, 1003…” (Internal dialogue)
“Jesus did not use Power Point… he used parables”. Tell one to make a point; then another one to make another point. Use very clear transitions between stories. Be careful of narrating the story: not good to step in and out of the story. “Take us, don’t tell us”. A story goes directly into the subconscious.
“What can you do to tell the story without words?”. The emotion is in the eyes (“eye-motion”). Reaction tells the story.
In a story: at least one of the characters has to change the emotion from the beginning to the end. Focus on telling better stories. The audience needs to know who is speaking: the best way to achieve it is by using the name of the recipient of the message in the dialogue (no need to change position, just a heel-turn).
V.A.K.S. = Visual Auditory Kinesthetic Smell (strongest one is describing smell)
Invite the audience into the scene (use “you”). “I / you ratio”: Even when telling a personal story, use more times the pronoun “you”.
“Tap and transport”: ask a question about a personal memory of the audience and then bring them into your story (they’ll relate what you say with their story, it’ll be their story). Once telling the story is better to use present tense. Do not ask “How many of you…?”, use instead “Have you…?”, the test is that you would never ask to a friend in a 1-to-1 conversation “How many of you?”.
“It doesn’t matter what you see, it matters what the audience see when you say it”, Patricia Fripp.
Not in favour of memorizing a speech (internalize it). Never give a speech in front of a mirror. Do not memorize gestures (inauthentic).
What do you want the audience to do / think / feel after hearing your speech? You must be able to phrase that message in 10 words or less.
On the use of simple vocabulary/grammar: “the audience wants you present, not perfect”.
Hold the silence before starting the speech (shows confidence): the “Ed Tate scan”. How stable you are in the first 30 seconds tells the audience how stable the message is.
Let it go. The true story is not so important. You may have to twist some details or cut some parts.
Opening: CSI beginning, i.e. directly into the crime scene.
Do not preach. Don’t tell people what to do (“you should”), instead tell what you did, what “we” could do, etc…
Recordings of Toastmasters finals speeches can be found at: Bill Stephens Productions. Darren found out that the champions:
- Had a coach.
- Used Word to write the speeches (counting words).
- Had a sparkle in the eye (they owned the stage).
If there is anything we should take home from the workshop, it is: “Stage time, stage time, stage time”.